By Carl Kozlowski
Bobbie Mannix has been a costume designer for over 30 years. Judging by the types of assignments she’s dealt with, they have been odd years indeed.
The winner of the 2002 Costume Designers Guild Award as Best Costume Designer for Television Commercial Achievement, Mannix has created 40 pairs of pants for dogs in a single commercial and decked out dozens of disco dancers for the 1980 camp classic feature Xanadu. Yet it was her work for the upcoming October remake of the feature The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that provided her strangest assignment.
“We’re making generic, anytime clothes, but because they’re for Leatherface [the film’s cannibalistic villain], they’re supposed to look like they’re made of skin,” Mannix explains with a slight cackle. “It’s sick to make things out of bodies, but it’s different for sure.”
New Jersey native Mannix landed the assignment Chainsaw because of her close association with the film’s controversial director, Marcus Nispel. She had earlier worked with the tyrannical helmer on the 1999 Arnold Schwarzenegger opus End of Days, in addition to numerous spots. Their collaboration on a series of vignette-laden spots for German dot-com T Online secured the Costume Designers Guild award, as she dressed different characters in different periods of mankind from the Cro-Magnon Era forward in the hopes of having fun with human evolution.
“I love working with Marcus because I love vignette commercials instead of heavily storyboarded directors. It’s more creative without lots of storyboards,” she explains. “Marcus appreciates my creativity and my spirit. I’m always smiling, and it’s hard not to have a good time when you’re smiling. Plus, he knows that if I make a mistake I’ll admit it.”
A graduate of the Philadelphia Museum College of Art, Mannix began her career working with legendary fashion designer Anne Klein. It was there that she learned the value of a solid team in commercial enterprises, laying the groundwork for her own six-person company, Costumes for Commercials. She fully admits that her passion is in period productions and that “I’m a total right brain, bad with paperwork.
“We say no problem to any request and we figure it out, we get it done,” explains Mannix. “I’ve opened shops on Saturdays and on Sundays – opened regular costume shops in their off hours – and we’ve worked 23-hour days at times because the time and money from a studio are in danger of running out and we’ve got to get our share done.”
Mannix’s company oversees the clothing for 50 commercials a year, while in her three-decade-plus career she has handled more than 1,750 commercials. She has worked on nine features under her own name, beginning with Peter Bogdanovich’s 1975 musical comedy At Long Last Love (“which was fun since it took place in the ‘30s”).
Her film breakthroughs came with three distinctly different films in two years: 1980’s roller-skating musical Xanadu, 1979’s Walter Hill street-gang classic The Warriors, and 1980’s western The Long Riders, in which she outfitted several sets of acting brothers for Hill as well: David, Robert and Keith Carradine; Stacy and James Keach; and Dennis and Randy Quaid.
“Xanadu was so pretty, and that’s where the talent comes in – designing a mix of heavenly looks for Olivia Newton-John and flashy skating outfits for all the background dancers,” Mannix recalls. “Larry Gordon and Joel Silver were the producers of Xanadu, so they were very hands on and everything was high drama, to say the least.”
Beyond her skin clothing for Chainsaw, Mannix’s next projects include a General Foods cookie commercial and a health care spot for Pharma. She just finished a “fabulous” commercial for Japanese video-game giant Heiwa, which featured a red army and a black army, as well as a Nispel-helmed spot for the Japanese shampoo Asience.
“I have freedom in my choices and it’s a God-given talent, plus I bring a lot to the party,” she says. “I know more about my profession than the people who hire me and that’s why they hire me. I have a really good imagination when I’m under pressure, whether it’s panic shopping or panic creating. But if directors are smart, they let me do what I do.”
By Carl Kozlowski